25 Years and Still Fighting for Justice: When Will Dow Chemical Clean Up Its Poisonous Legacy in Bhopal

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Originally posted on TakePart.com, Participant Media's Social Action site.

Even now, after 17 years of working in the international NGO arena, fighting for environmental and human rights, and social justice, I am still taken aback by multinational corporations and the disproportionate power and influence these entities have amassed on the global stage. Don't get me wrong: commerce and markets are as old as humankind, so it's not about that.

But who holds multinational corporations accountable when things go wrong--especially overseas--and how? And what happens when one company buys another, one that is holding significant public liability? Doesn't the liability go along with the purchase?

Take Dow Chemical, ranked #127 on the 2009 Global 500 List, and 2nd within the global chemical industry, with profits of $579 million. In 2001, Dow fully acquired Union Carbide Corporation. (See CorpWatch's Crocodyl.org wiki profile on Dow Chemical)

On the night of December 2-3, 1984, Union Carbide's pesticide factory in Bhopal, India, leaked a deadly cloud of methyl iso cyanate gas that floated out into the surrounding area. 8,000 people lost their lives in the immediate aftermath of that terrifying night. According to Bhopal Medical Appeal, at least 25,000 people have died in total as a result of the tragedy.

Last week was the 25th Anniversary of this man-made disaster. And Dow Chemical has yet to clean up the contaminated site. The International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal estimates 100,000 more people--now including 2nd generation impacted children--are still suffering. Deformities, disabilities, miscarriages and other illnesses such as chronic respiratory problems are among the maladies documented.

Last week the group I direct, CorpWatch, published a new feature story by veteran activist and journalist Nityanand Jayaraman, "Bhopal: Generations of Poison." In the article you'll find a lot of historical detail, as well as findings from two new independent studies, released on December 1, showing continued high levels of contaminants in and around the factory site. See The Bhopal Medical Appeal's "BMA Sambhavna Bhopal Water Report," and The Centre for Science and Environment's "Continuing nightmare in Bhopal: CSE laboratory tests soil, water samples from Union Carbide."

I was hoping to get this blog post up last week, too, so as not to be late in honoring the survivors and the victims on this awful anniversary. Pesky deadlines and the unanticipated prevented me from doing so before I caught my flight on Thursday to Amsterdam, on my way to the climate talks now beginning in Copenhagen, Denmark. "Damn," I thought, "I've missed the anniversary window, and now my blog would be late."

Then it hit me. Wait a minute...talk about late! Twenty-five years is a long time to wait for Dow and Union Carbide to right this devastating wrong, and it's even longer when the tragedy keeps on giving. Because site contamination has still not been adequately contained, nor cleaned up, the poisons continue to pollute the groundwater that more than 30,000 people rely on for drinking water.

Again, how is it that a corporation gets away with this? Countries have been invaded over lower numbers of victims (no number is a good number here), and if a non-state actor released a cloud of noxious gas that killed 8,000 pretty much off the bat, wouldn't that be considered an act of terrorism? Or at the least, egregious criminal wrong-doing? Wouldn't the clamor be deafening to hold to account those responsible?

Instead, Dow has launched a Corporate Social Responsibility Campaign--Dow's Global Water Initiatives, which doesn't have a project in Bhopal--in a classic greenwash of its public image.

Despite all this, Bhopali survivors are not giving up their struggle for justice. Take a look at this inspiring photo gallery of the rally they held last week on December 3rd.

December is also the first anniversary of Children Against Dow-Carbide, an association of about 60 youngsters. As 17-year old Safreen Khan, one of the co-founders of the youth group interviewed in our article, puts it, "The Bhopal struggle is not 25 years old. With our entry, the struggle has just entered its youthful phase, and we'll keep the fight alive for as long as it takes."

What can you do to TakePart?

Inform yourself about what happened in Bhopal in 1984 through the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal, and about the chemical industry, its impacts, and alternatives.

Read about and help investigate corporate practices on CorpWatch's Crocodyl.org website--Collaborative Research On Corporations.

And join Students for Bhopal in their campaign to Dump Your Dow, until Dow steps up to account.

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